Trip Rating 3.5/5
Hamilton Harbour is a Jekyll and Hyde kind of trip. On the west side it has the same feeling as a small Muskoka Lake, on the east, it is a busy commercial port servicing Lakers that travel the St. Lawrence Seaway. It is extremely deep water and can get quite choppy at times, so caution is warranted. That being said, there are a number of notable points of interest. I have tried to list them below. There are a few places to launch on the harbour. The most convenient and easiest option is at Pier 4 Park. To find this location, enter 43.269691, -79.871444 into Google Maps.
There is a dock for launching. Parking is right next to the launch and is free. However, the lot is busy and fills up quite quickly. There are washroom facilities in the park. There is no place to rent canoes or kayaks.
Trip Length: There are multiple trips worth trying. You could combine them to make a longer trip.
Points of Interest:
Grindstone Creek: I will do another separate post on this creek, but here is the route from Pier 4 park. Click here for post.
HMCS Haida: is a Tribal-class destroyer that served in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) from 1943 to 1963.
Haida sank more enemy surface tonnage than any other Canadian warship. She is also the only surviving Tribal-class destroyer out of 27 vessels that were constructed between 1937 and 1945 for the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy, and the RCN.
The HMCS Haida is a National Historic Site.
Cootes Paradise – I have a separate post detailing this.
CCIW/Burlington Lift Bridge: Established in 1967, the Canada Centre for Inland Waters (CCIW) located in Burlington, Ontario, accommodates over 600 staff from Environment Canada (EC), the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Canadian Coast Guard, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
CCIW Aquatic Contaminant and Water Hydrology and Ecology scientific staff conduct field and laboratory activities aimed at better understanding and predicting the effects of contaminants and other substances on aquatic ecosystems. The sources, fate and impacts of nutrient and other contaminant loading from agricultural, land use change and municipal wastewater are studied in sediments, groundwater and surface waters.
Willow Cove/Lasalle Park – I have a separate post detailing this.
Difficulty: Class A1 – A2 on the harbour portion. Watch out for power boaters and commercial traffic. Please be careful and use gear as required to be safe.
“Hamilton Harbour, also known as Burlington Bay, lies on the western tip of Lake Ontario, bounded on the northwest by the City of Burlington, on the south by the City of Hamilton, and on the east by Hamilton Beach (south of the Burlington Bay James N. Allan Skyway) and Burlington Beach (north of the channel). It is joined to Cootes Paradise by a narrow channel formerly excavated for the Desjardins Canal. Within Hamilton itself, it is referred to as “Hamilton Harbour”, “The Harbour” and “The Bay”. The bay is naturally separated from Lake Ontario by a sand bar. The opening (Pim-me-be-tong-gonk) in the north end was filled in and channel cut in the middle for ships to pass. The Port of Hamilton is located on the Hamilton side of the harbour.
The bay was named in 1792 by John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, for the former name of the town of Bridlington in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England. Access to the bay was important for the early water transportation and industrial development of the area, including Dundas, Ontario, which had an early but ultimately unrealized lead over both Burlington (Brant’s Block) and Hamilton.
Over the years, the bay was roughly treated by its littoral residents. Constant infilling, particularly in the North End of Hamilton, damaged fresh water streams and the wildlife they supported. Channel dredging tended to stir up natural and unnatural sediments, further disrupting the ecological land balance in the area. Chemical, industrial and thermal pollution, especially as a byproduct of the burgeoning steel industry after the 1890s, continued to degrade the environment.
The water ways in Hamilton have not always been polluted. The north-end of the Harbour used to be a regular swimming spot for working-class families. The pollution of Hamilton Harbour water ways is caused by industrialization and, by proxy, urbanization which came to be a major problem by 1917. Many working-class families were overcome by health hazards when dumping sewage into the inlets and the bay itself became a regular occurrence. Laurel Sefton MacDowell writes in her book An Environmental History of Canada that, “As early as the 1860s, a fishery inspector at Hamilton Harbour discovered that fish found along the shore tasted of coal oil and that dead ducks and muskrats were coated with oil from two refineries.” By the 1950s, city officials had deemed Hamilton Harbour unfit for any recreation use and shut down all beaches.
In 1919, a Federal Order-In-Council changed the name of Burlington Bay to Hamilton Harbour.
By the 1970s, the International Joint Commission, which governs water usage in the Great Lakes Basin, and other agencies began to recognize the need for action. Greater water quality awareness, improved pollution controls, and an economic downturn all served to improve conditions in the 1980s. In the 1990s, beautification and ecological control were well underway. These measures included sealing the Lax Lands, contaminated with heavy metals and other pollutants, under a cap of clay; landscaping Bayfront Park and Pier 4 Park; and keeping common carp from entering Cootes Paradise. The visible and measurable improvement in water quality in Burlington Bay was showcased in 1994 by the very public swim of Sheila Copps, a local MP and federal cabinet minister. Access and recreational use of the bayfront has improved, and swimming is now allowed at two beaches in the harbour – Bayfront and Pier 4.
Hamilton Harbour is listed as a Great Lakes Areas of Concern in The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada. Part of the remediation plan is to reclaim the harbour’s wetlands.
Randle Reef, a site in the harbour, is considered the most dire of identified water pollution issues awaiting remediation in Canada.“